Five years ago, I thought I had everything figured out. I didn’t appreciate then the good advice of a mentor who would often say, “Use this time of life to prepare for the next.”
That next part of life came and, I was not prepared for it.
Here are five mental health behaviors I have added to my daily routine that I am glad I have added. What’s more, if I were to meet my 2015 self and tell them I was doing these things, I think he would laugh at me.
The five behaviors I have added are:
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Meeting with a therapist and practicing IFS
- Journaling intentionally every day
- Purposeful walks and excursions just for mental clarity
- Monthly retreat to refocus and renew
Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness has been the mossy-dramatic shift for me in the way that I think about life and how to flow through my days. I use the Headspace app and try to spend 20-30 minutes a day getting a little break from the clouds and craziness of my life with the headspace app.
Sometimes, I use it when I drive home (there’s a driving headspace). Other times, I use their sleep sessions to fall asleep (the desert fire one is my favorite) and other times, I use it to open and link my mind and heart before (or after) an important call or presentation.
Being able to allow the “conveyor belt” of my mind to present things to me without freaking out when something rumbles along that I don’t particularly like has been quite helpful. I can choose to let it just keep going, if I want, or I can question it or consider for myself what that thing is trying to do for me, if anything.
Either way, mindfulness as a focus has been monumental for me so far this year.
Meeting a Therapist and Practicing IFS
Somehow, there’s still a bit of a stigma around therapy, but I have found this a tremendous boost for me. In my relationships with others, I have discovered that the way I see others is often a reflection of the way I am seeing myself.
The Internal Family Systems model (IFS) of therapy is a working model that helps me put together the different “parts” of myself into a cohesive and helpful working group inside my own mind that I can visualize as a set of helpers who are trying to assist me through my days. Some of them help me connect with and feel empathy for anyone from the teller at the bank to the most important people in my life. Some of them freak out when I sense danger and do their best (albeit sometimes poorly) to help protect me.
All in all, this mental model has helped me greatly make sense of my past, deal with unresolved issues I have left undone for myself as well as helped me grow in ways I never thought I could.
IFS or therapy might not be right for you. If you’re not sure, consider all this like hiring a life coach. Yeah, that’s cool, right?
Journaling Intentionally, Everyday
I used to journal.
I used to try and write in my online apps like Bear and Evernote.
But then I realized that the only way for me to actually recall things is to journal, intentionally, with a pen and paper.
This may not be the same for you, but I am guessing if you didn’t use a keyboard every day of your life, pen and paper still helps you retain something that keyboard typing simply does not.
I fought this for years, but now I embrace it.
I wrote about how taking notes is a secret weapon in my meetings and work, but it’s also how I retain more information and insight, and allows me to capture information and feelings (somehow) that I would not have had later on, if I just tried to recall data like a mental google search result.
The format or function of the journal has become a bit of a thing for me through this, preferring the moleskine style notebook, though I have been buying the Leuchtturm 1917 A5 bullet journal style (with page numbers!) now for more than a year. (I link to this in my note taking article, above, should you be interested) – just ctrl-F for “journal” and you should see it)
Having a journal for “work” and another for personal (including spiritual, and mental health) insights has become my preference.
Purposeful walks and excursions just for mental clarity
I try to walk in mornings where I don’t do another workout.
I try to walk in the afternoon between 2-3pm.
I am not perfect at these things, but perfection is not as important as intentionality and doing a little more today than yesterday.
Sometimes, this same walk has been some of the most connecting time I have had with my partner. In fact, she showed me the route. A part of me is with her each time I walk it.
If you live near me, you have likely seen me. My route is boring. A two-mile loop from my house (or my trailer-office) around the greater neighborhood and back again.
I’m the guy talking to himself or repeating something over and over again.
Sometimes, I put in earbuds. I have been listening to the Binaural Beats Focus podcast on Spotify to with the volume low to help calm and focus my mind.
By the time I am home again (about 50 minutes) I am refreshed and ready for more — OR — I have solved for and mentally completed my “work” and now can put that aside (or “hang it on my mind tree” as my therapist says) and actually be done with it.
Monthly retreat to refocus and renew
I need more work on this, but late in 2019 I realized I needed to be about and off doing other things rather than endlessly repeating my weeks and weekends here at home.
I work in an RV.
Which is ironic because for two years I think it sat here at the house, getting used as an RV only a few times.
Since I realized this need, I have a goal to go once a month and do SOMETHING else. Ideally, for me, it includes hiking, being in nature, experiencing something I have not seen before, practicing a craft or being creative in ways I enjoy like http://instagram.com/r._.pix or writing.
I got this idea from a colleague at Workday, who led a “class” on creativity once. They noted how the human mind cannot allow itself to be creative while it is focused too much on a task at hand—something with an end result or a product.
This is one reason you have brilliant ideas in the shower. The mind is unfocused and not trying to solve for everything.
Once a month, can you disconnect? Perhaps this looks like a morning where you purposefully do not “SLAY ALL DAY!!!!” But you intentionally cancel your meetings, go for a slow walk somewhere beautiful, paint what you feel, feel what you see, meet a friend, talk to yourself about the things you appreciate, listen to others when they tell you the things they appreciate about you. Wear pajamas all day. Try something you can purposefully NOT accomplish. Do something that is not your normal — if you are a computer person, build Something with your hands. If you are a project person, do something that has no real outcome possible.
This is one reason why I think hiking is so, so, so good for me. Something happens differently in the body and in the mind after two or three miles of a good hike, somewhere on the earth, where you can feel with and be with all the motions and emotions of the world around you.
And exist there.
Without needing a reason or an agenda.
And without expectation for the world to be anything for you than it just simply is.
And breathe that in.